During the last few years, Apple has had to deal with a tough choice: redesign its laptop computers and face criticism or face the disruption of the Mac. A couple of weeks back, Apple introduced us to the answer in the form of the new MacBook Pro.
In case you hadn’t noticed, this new family of laptops gets rid of all the legacy ports and substitutes it with USB-C. An all purpose port made for the future. But as pundits and advanced users have argued, this laptop still lives in the present.
These same users have criticised the lack of performance of an allegedly cutting edge computer. One that lacks the latest Intel chips and max out at 16GB of RAM.
Why is Apple doing this? Is Tim Cook seriously forcing people to drop their Mac in favor of the iPad Pro? Has Apple forsaken its loyal customers, the ones that saved the company when it was on the brink of bankruptcy?
Of course not. By doing this, Apple is preventing the disruption of the Mac in a world ruled by iPhone and iPad.
The Struggling Mac
“They are all computers,” he says. “Each one is offering computers something unique and each is made with a simple form that is pretty eternal. The job of the watch is to do more and more things on your wrist so that you don’t need to pick up your phone as often. The job of the phone is to do more and more things such that maybe you don’t need your iPad, and it should be always trying and striving to do that.
The job of the iPad should be to be so powerful and capable that you never need a notebook. Like, Why do I need a notebook? I can add a keyboard! I can do all these things! The job of the notebook is to make it so you never need a desktop, right? It’s been doing this for a decade. So that leaves the poor desktop at the end of the line, What’s its job?.”
Its job is to challenge what we think a computer can do and do things that no computer has ever done before, be more and more powerful and capable so that we need a desktop because of its capabilities,” says Schiller. “Because if all it’s doing is competing with the notebook and being thinner and lighter, then it doesn’t need to be.
Phil Schiller’s words were published in an interview made by Steven Levy over a year ago [emphasis added]. With this, Schiller detailed how Apple sees its own products competing with each other. In this way, it ensures that each one of them pushes the envelope forward or they risk becoming irrelevant.
Apple has redefined how they see their products, and this has allowed the iPad strategy to gain momentum again. It is also behind the raison d’être of the AirPods.
In these articles I argued that sometimes one of Apple’s products get ahead of the herd and challenge the rest only to be surpassed again a few years later. The iPhone brought several innovations that later made their way to the iPad, which in turn made their way into the Mac. Like Touch ID, which has recently made its last stop into the MacBook Pro after stopping in the iPad and iPhone stations.
This approach makes sense. You need time to perfect an innovation and adapt it to a new set of use cases before making the jump. This is why Touch ID took three years, four iPhone and several iPad generations before it reached the Mac.
In the meantime, users are out in the cold, waiting.
This is what happened to the Mac during the last four years. Apple introduced a redesigned MacBook Pro in 2012 and made some updates the following years. But nothing significant.
With Apple’s prowess in chip and component design, the iPad Pro together with the iPhone, started to challenge its older Mac brethren. The MacBook risked losing its reason to be.
The Disruption of the Mac
New market disruption theory states that well established companies frequently end up over serving their clients. By adding too many bells and whistles too fast, its customers notice they are paying a premium for features they don’t need or use.
As a consequence, it opens up an opportunity for competition. Smaller companies can take advantage of the situation with a new technology, even though the resulting product has a worse performance than the established one.
Despite this, as the new product emerges the new company is able to steal away some clients whose needs are better satisfied with its product.
Sounds familiar? That’s because it is exactly what happened when Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007. It was first ignored, then mocked and by the time incumbents reacted it was too late. The smartphone revolution, spearheaded by the iPhone, was well under way.
By 2012, PC makers, Intel and Microsoft suffered strong losses in a sinking market. Users realised that the tasks they had hired the PC to do were better done by the smartphone.
The PC had over served its users for years. But lacking a better proposal to their needs, they sticked with it up until the iPhone showed them another way was possible.
The result is out there for us to see: Sony dropped from the PC market and sold its division. Samsung folded from several countries. HP has a painful transition to services underway. Dell became a private company after repurchasing all its shares.
Although the Mac fared better than its Windows PC counterpart, its sales have recently started to lose steam too. The disruption of the Mac had begun.
Once the 2012 MacBook Pro generation ran its course, there were three things Apple could do.
The Easy Thing to Do
The most obvious thing Apple could have done when faced by the disruption of the Mac was easy: focus on performance. Bigger, faster, more powerful, more ports and more battery. Moar everything.
As Phil Schiller said in that interview he gave last year, it’s about challenging what a desktop Mac can do. How hard can that be?
Apparently, really hard or not at all. That depends on the observer.
There is a reason Apple didn’t went with the moar everthing approach. For starters, it would’ve opened up a door to disruption. Other competitors would have seen the opportunity that over served Mac users represent and offered something different. Something less powerful but better suited to their needs.
You can argue that this product is also made by the company: the iPhone. And as long as Apple is cannibalising itself, it’s all right. But that implies that Apple can’t do anything to make a better MacBook Pro.
A statement I’m certain Apple strongly disagrees with.
The Wrong Thing to Do
When I suggested that this might be only the latest in a number of mobile innovations moving to the Mac, in an overall annexation of the Macintosh platform, Schiller pushed back, hard. “Its implementation is pure Mac,” he said. “The thought and vision from the very beginning was not at all, ‘How do we put iOS in the Mac?’ It was entirely, ‘How to you use the [iOS] technology to make a better Mac experience?’” – Steven Levy in a new interview with Phil Schiller.
In the last few years, people have been expecting Apple to release a Mac with a touchscreen. OS X meets iOS. Apple has even released a quite some patents on the subject. But to date, no touchscreen Mac.
Then, a couple of weeks back, Microsoft releases an amazing product like the Surface Studio. A 28 inch screen in which touch lives in all its glory. Everyone starts to question Apple’s ability to innovate.
But adding a touchscreen to a mouse and keyboard interface is a mistake for Apple. Instead, Apple has been integrating iOS features to the Mac that can improve the experience. But always with the particularities of the Mac in mind.
Microsoft doesn’t have a successful mobile platform like Apple does. That is why they are trying to mix both into one platform, hoping to get closer to the end user. Even Google is making a strategic shift with Android in order to be closer to the user.
The Right Thing to Do
There’s much griping about these machines now, just like there was much griping about the original Air then, but these are exactly the MacBooks I want Apple to be making — ones that show that the company is putting very hard work into every aspect of them. I’d be more worried about Apple’s commitment to the Mac if they did the easy thing — easier both technically and in terms of initial critical response — and just stuck a retina display in a MacBook Air and called it a day – John Gruber.
The antidote to disruption is to listen to your best customers and then do the exact opposite. By doing what they want, you end up over serving the rest of your clients. While passionate about it, so called pro users are the recipe to the disruption of the Mac. They will drive you right up to disruption road while praising your product.
As a MacBook Pro user, I want Apple to make the decisions I wouldn’t do for myself. That is why I pay them handsomely when I buy one of their products.
This doesn’t mean it’s easy, quite the opposite. Going after your best customer’s needs and delivering what they don’t want or expect opens you to fierce criticism.
Instead of catering to its best customers needs, Apple is trying to open the use cases and widening the Mac user base. This is the antidote to the disruption of the Mac.
Most people have made fun of the Touch Bar. But with it, Apple is refining the Mac so as to get closer to the user. It eliminates bumps and friction, making advanced features that were previously hidden more visible to the average user.
Lance Ulanoff from Mashable in one of the best reviews of the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar:
The Edit tools are a good example of how the Touch Bar may nest controls two or more levels deep. After selecting the Edit tool under Photos, you still have to choose which tool to use. Once you get to a tool like Light, you’re presented with a slider. I found myself watching the big screen as my finger slid back and forth across the Touch Bar slider.
Then, there is emojis. Emojis in the Touch Bar represent Apple’s plan to avoid the disruption of the MacBook Pro: eliminating friction and avoiding disruption by over serving Pros. Have you ever tried to enter an emoji in macOS? It requires an almost impossible to execute keyboard shortcut and then hunting down the right one.
With the Touch Bar, Apple is positioning itself closer to the user without resorting to a touchscreen.
It is not easy to know if this is the right move for Apple now, especially when they are facing this much criticism. But I’d rather have Apple trying to deactivate the time bomb that is the disruption of the Mac than trying to please pro users.